With the Ravens eyeing their second four-game winning streak of the season in a road showdown with Jacksonville on Sunday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Though Baltimore wants to secure the No. 1 seed, Jacksonville needs this one to protect a one-game lead in the AFC South and right itself after back-to-back losses. The Ravens can’t get caught peeking ahead to the San Francisco game that will be hyped as a potential Super Bowl preview.
2. These next two away games may determine whether John Harbaugh’s team will have to pack its bags at any point on a potential path to Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII. The Ravens are 5-1 on the road — including the London trip — and 26-9 in Lamar Jackson’s career road starts.
3. After sitting out last year’s Jacksonville loss, Kyle Hamilton said teammates were teasing him about potentially ducking Trevor Lawrence again. Considering his practice participation throughout the week and Harbaugh’s expressed optimism Friday, I’d be mildly surprised if Hamilton doesn’t play, which is quite a change from a few days ago.
4. Though Jacksonville is without top slot receiver Christian Kirk, contesting with 6-foot-3, 240-pound tight end Evan Engram would be much easier with Hamilton on the field. Engram has already caught a career-high 84 passes and primarily lines up in the slot.
5. Four turnovers didn’t help at Cleveland, but the Jaguars are coming off two of their worst defensive performances of the season and have been a middling defense at best since their Week 9 bye after previously playing like a top 10 unit. Jacksonville is also banged up in the secondary.
6. With Sharp Football tracking the Jaguars with the second-worst yards per pass attempt (8.6) and worst completion percentage (71.5%) allowed in the NFL since its bye, Jackson has the opportunity to really augment his MVP case for a second straight week. The prime-time spotlight also helps in that regard.
7. Regardless of the Jaguars’ overall defensive concerns, edge rusher Josh Allen is in the midst of a career season with 13 1/2 sacks and will try to exploit Ronnie Stanley, who responded favorably to rotating with Patrick Mekari last week. Stanley will have his hands full in this one.
8. Justin Madubuike has the opportunity to tie an NFL record if he can register at least a half-sack for an 11th straight game. Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson did it in 2021 while Kansas City’s Chris Jones accomplished that with a full sack or more in 11 consecutive contests back in 2018.
9. Tylan Wallace’s heroics eased the sting of losing two-time Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Duvernay, who hasn’t looked as explosive the last couple seasons. However, ball security on returns will be something to watch with Duvernay having fumbled just twice in his career.
10. Having another above-average season despite a relatively slow start, Kevin Zeitler was named a finalist for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award this week. The Ravens will face many tough calls in free agency this offseason, but keeping Zeitler for another year or two would be very beneficial.
11. Lost in some of the silly discourse surrounding Justin Tucker has been Baltimore essentially facing a peak Tucker in the aggregate this season with opposing kickers going 28-for-29 on field goals and 7-for-8 from beyond 50 yards. That makes a 10-3 record even more impressive.
12. The Ravens could know as early as Saturday night whether they’ll have the opportunity to officially clinch a playoff spot with a Week 15 victory. I suspect most fans would have done cartwheels for that nine months ago when their superstar quarterback requested a trade.
Prediction: The Jaguars’ Week 12 upset victory over Baltimore last year was the turning point of their season while the loss marked the beginning of the end for the Ravens, who lost Jackson to a knee injury the following week. This time around, Jacksonville remains in strong playoff position, but doubts persist about Doug Pederson’s team being able to hang with the NFL’s heavyweights after home losses to Kansas City and San Francisco earlier this season. Teams having the most success against the Ravens — relatively speaking anyway — have been able to run the ball and protect the pocket, two areas in which the Jaguars have struggled. Lawrence will do his best to get the ball out quickly for some modest success, but the Ravens defense will ultimately make Jacksonville too one-dimensional. The Jaguars defense is better against the run than the pass, but Baltimore’s rushing attack will be a deciding factor in grinding out a 24-16 win and avoiding a letdown after last week’s emotional overtime win.